This week we are spoiled for choice with Aintree's National meeting getting underway on Thursday. Here are my tips...
There are no less than four Grade 1 races on a superb day's racing. The Betfred Bowl Chase looks a cracker with Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti vying for favouritism. Dynaste came back to form with a bang in the Ryanair after disappointing behind Silviniaco Conti in the King George. The latter faded into fourth in the Gold Cup and I'm convinced a slightly shorter trip and a flat track will see him bounce back. With both horses it's hard to say whether their Cheltenham efforts have left a mark, but we won't know that until the last couple of fences. If that does bother you then there's always First Lieutenant who was due to run in the Gold Cup but it was said he didn't eat up so he missed the race. He won this race last year with Silviniaco Conti in third that day, but the latter made a race losing error and tactical lessons have been learnt from that day. I'm definitely with the Paul Nicholls trained runner and I hope he has come out of Cheltenham in good heart.
On the same card the Aintree Hurdle sees the return of Champion Hurdle third The New One. As I'm sure you're aware, his finishing position defies his effort as he was almost brought down by the tragic fall of Our Conor. He then had to pick himself up having taken a couple of nasty kicks, get back into a rhythm and he stayed on well up the hill to look like the one to take out of the race. He is a very short price for this race, but punters are keen to be on him and I can see why. However, at those prices I'd prefer just to watch him run or maybe back the forecast with Rock On Ruby. Yes, you read that correctly, Harry Fry's 2012 Champion Hurdle winner is reverting to hurdles after a disappointing run in the Arkle which saw him jump badly and trail home in eighth. The New One is already 5/1 for next year's Champion Hurdle.
The Melling Chase is one of three Grade 1 races on day two. Module looks the likely favourite for Tom George (currently 4/1 with Sky Bet). He was third to Sire du Grugy in the Champion Chase, but you got the impression the step up to this 2m 4f would have suited better at the highest level. Tom George had said earlier in the season that he will stay three miles, so this should be ideal for him. Radjhani Express was another to run well at Cheltenham and Nicky Henderson's horse was third to Dynaste in the Ryanair. He's a lovely seven-year-old who should still be improving, but connections wouldn't want to see a great deal of rain before race time. David Pipe's Ballynagour was a comfortable winner of the Byrne Group Plate (off 140) at the festival and is taking the step up to Grade 1 level for the first time.
Rocky Creek is the only horse that can save my chances in the Sky Sports prestigious ten-to-follow competition
Quotes of the week
He certainly looks up to it, but if you back him you take the risk that he doesn't always run like that. He has had problems with bursting blood vessels in the past and doesn't take too much racing so it's a concern that this may come too soon after Cheltenham. Wishfull Thinking has been a great servant to Philip Hobbs and his team, but at the age of 11 there isn't much we don't know about him. Aintree suits him well though and he is a winner here in his younger days and he can't be written off. Willie Mullins has Boston Bob entered and he needs to improve on his sixth place in the Ryanair, he looks nowadays like he needs further, but he has good winning form at this trip. I like Module, but am going to go with Wishfull Thinking who seems to retain his ability and enthusiasm and likes this track.
The Topham Chase is the race over the big National fences on Friday. We still don't have the final field but at entry stage Champion Court carries top weight for Martin Keighley and Ian Popham. Double Ross is the ante-post favourite for team Twiston-Davies, he's a horse who has had a great season who seems to excel at Cheltenham. That's not much use to us here and his only run at this track ended in him pulling up over hurdles at this meeting last year. He has a lovely attitude though and whenever you back him you feel he is giving his all. His consistency has seen him rise up the weights this term and he is second only to Champion Court in the weights.
Dr Richard Newland runs Mart Lane who has an interesting profile. He has only had nine runs over fences winning three of them but has to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Grimthorpe Chase last time out and he bled the time before in the Sky Bet Chase. It doesn't mean he'll bleed again but it's risk you take. I wouldn't be surprised to see him run a big race though. You should get a run for your money if you side with Donald McCain's Dunowen Point. He was fourth in this last year and is more attractively weighted off an 8lb lower mark this time round. I wouldn't be surprised to see him do well if he gets a run.
Then we move on to the feature, the £1m Crabbie's Grand National. Having just read Ed Chamberlin's excellent pin-stickers guide on www.sportinglife.com I'm pleased to see we are in agreement. Like Ed I fancy Rocky Creek, but my reasons are rather less scientific. This is the only horse that can save my chances in the Sky Sports prestigious ten-to-follow competition! Heart ruling head aside, this horse has plenty to recommend him. He has only had the ten starts and won four of them, but it was perhaps his placed efforts in the Hennessy and the Argento that stand out. He didn't have a smooth preparation before his run at Cheltenham in January and he is a young improving chaser.
Last year's third Teaforthree looked a picture when we saw him on Sky Sports News earlier this week and his trainer Rebecca Curtis seemed quietly confident that she has him in better shape than last year. He was certainly moving well and he has been trained for this race since last year's placed effort. The only thing that puts me off is his price and I'm afraid I won't be backing him at such restrictive odds. I can't really have Monbeg Dude either because of his awful habit of kicking a fence out of the way. It will take all of Paul Carberry's magic to get him round even given the fact he has had some intensive jumping schooling with Zara Phillips. It's sure to have helped him, but as we've seen with Long Run, all the jumping over poles in the world hasn't stopped him knocking one over and it's a worry over these fences.
Speaking of Long Run, I respect his ability, but he is yet to fire this season and even given Sam Waley-Cohen's great record over the national fences, he will have to show some of his old ability. A horse that retains plenty of ability, even at the age of 13, is Tidal Bay who like Rocky Creek is trained by Paul Nicholls. He has top weight here and I can picture Sam Twiston-Davies hunting him round with all the confidence of youth out the back of this 40 strong field before staying on in his customary strong manner. I like this horse and the race could be tailor made for him. Can he defy the stats and win under top weight as a teenager, it's hard to say, but he should run a big race.
Jonjo O'Neill spoke to Sky Sports News this week too and he couldn't disguise the twinkle in his eye when talking about a couple of his runners this week. One of them was Burton Port, who runs in the famous colours of Trevor Hemmings who has won the race twice before with Hedgehunter and Ballabriggs. Burton Port ran a much better race at Newbury last time out and he has the assistance of northern based jump jockey Brian Harding. Harding brings plenty of experience to the ride and a cool head and he should be overlooked at your peril. We still don't know which horse AP McCoy will ride.
Murmurings in the week suggest Double Seven over Colbert Station, but until declarations we won't know. If he does go with Double Seven he will be riding a horse that progressed up the handicap in Ireland last summer winning five on the bounce. He reappeared after a winter break at Leopardstown and wasn't disgraced in what was a fair prep run for the National. He would have a great chance on decent ground, but I'd overlook him if the rain comes. Colbert Station was ridden by AP in the race last year and he unseated at The Chair. He fell last time out which isn't ideal and if AP does pick him he'll be a false price.
Pineau du Re is trained by Dr Richard Newland who excels with his staying chasers. He has fallen over these big fences before, but that isn't a huge concern as he's generally a good jumper. He has the handy weight of 10.6 and Leighton Aspell takes the ride. He ran a cracker in the Pertemps Final over hurdles at Cheltenham last time out not beaten far by Fingal Bay. That has to give him a great chance in this and he has a big chance for his small trainer. The Rainbow Hunter has had a breathing operation and it clearly worked as he won the Sky Bet Chase which can be a good guide to the National. It would be fantastic for trainer Kim Bailey and connections if he could win and that wind op might just have turned things around for him. He has some experience of these fences as he ran in the National last year, but didn't get beyond The Chair. Lion Na Bearnai is an interesting runner at a bigger price. He is trained in Ireland by Thomas Gibney who saddled him to win the Irish National in 2012. He could be one to run into a place.
Mr Moonshine represents last year's winning connections and he has a chance too for Sue Smith and Ryan Mania. I don't think he's been chucked in at the weights, though. The David Bridgewater trained Wyck Hill needs a bit of luck to get a run (he's 52nd in the weights), but in the unlikely event he does run he can't be discounted and he's currently 40/1 with Sky Bet. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for declarations to know our fate with this one, but he doesn't lack stamina and he's versatile ground wise. I'm definitely with Rocky Creek, but this is the National and I've already talked myself in and out of several selections already. I think Teaforthree has a great chance, but he's too short. I also like Burton Port, Pineau du Re and at a bigger price Lion Na Bearnai and to make up my first five (Sky Bet are paying five places).
If you haven't already checked it out I can recommend you listen to the Grand National Pinstickers Podcast with the team from sportinglife.com including Dave Ord, Ed Chamberlin, Michael Shinners and Ben Linfoot. It's not only informative, but very funny too! https://soundcloud.com/sportinglife/national-pin-stickers-podcast
Silviniaco Conti in the Betfred Bowl Chase @ 9/4 with Sky Bet
The New One in the Aintree Hurdle @ 4/11 with Sky Bet
Wishfull Thinking in the Melling Chase @ 6/1 with Sky Bet
Dunowen Point in the Topham Chase @ 20/1 with Sky Bet
Rocky Creek in the Grand National @ 16/1 with Sky Bet
Lion Na Bearnai in the Grand National @ 33/1 with Sky Bet (each way)